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A Piecemeal Approach to COVID Tests, as Towns Grapple With Delays, Fewer Kits

Towns across Connecticut are beginning to distribute about 426,000 COVID-19 tests after the state’s original agreement to purchase 3 million COVID-19 testing kits from an outside vendor fell through last week, delaying the distribution. But local officials say they are still running short of demand after a holiday surge of cases and receiving fewer than expected tests from the state.

Setting aside a portion of the tests for front-line workers – school and daycare staff and emergency workers – town officials said the number left for residents did not measure up to what was needed. 

“It’s very clearly not enough to meet demand,” said Angus McDonald Jr, first selectman of Deep River, one of several town officials to speak with CT Examiner about the problem on Monday.

McDonald said that the town received about 580 of the 660 test it was originally promised. He said the town planned to distribute about 300 of those test kits to residents Monday afternoon. 

Many towns received far fewer kits than they were originally anticipating. Old Lyme, which expected 990 test kits, received fewer than 550. East Lyme received just over 1,000 kits, according to an update posted on the town website.

“This is half of the original amount the Town had intended to provide to our residents, but our initial allotment amount was cut by almost 50%,” according to the posted announcement.  

Registration to pick up the kits opened at 9 a.m. Monday morning in East Lyme.Ten minutes later, all the slots were taken.

Even for towns that received their expected number of test kits, demand quickly exceeded supply.

In Guilford, which received 3,476 kits, First Selectman Matt Hoey said that the 3,000 kits made available to the general public were spoken for within five minutes of opening up online registration. 

“We opened up registration at noon yesterday. By five-after, I think there were 1900 folks that hit the site,” he said. 

Madison, which received 2,880 tests and planned to distribute 1,900 to the general public, also quickly ran out of tests after opening its online registration on Monday morning.

“The Town had an overwhelming response to this event with the number of requests far exceeding our current supply,” read a message on the town website. 

First Selectman Laura Francis of Durham said that the town received about 400 of the 900 tests they were originally promised. However, she said that even the full amount wouldn’t have met the town’s need. 

“Even if we had gotten the 900 it would not have been enough. I don’t think the state ever intended to have it be for everyone,” said Francis. 

The Governor’s Office did not respond to a question about how the state determined the amount of tests that were distributed to each municipality. 

On Monday, the state reported a 21.5 percent positivity rate, the highest since the state began keeping track of cases in 2020. 

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom, who received 2,800 of the 5,000 tests the city was expecting, said that the tests were meant to go to people experiencing symptoms, or people who were most vulnerable to the virus, and not to everyone who simply wanted to have a test available at home. 

Nystrom said the state should not have promised the tests before having them in their possession. 

“They never should have made that statement when they didn’t even have them here,” said Nystrom. “So many people were stuck in line waiting.” 

“As many people as we can”

Most towns limited the kits to one or two per family, and are requiring proof of residency for test pick up. Some towns went even further. Old Lyme, for example, is limiting kits to people who are showing COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to a positive case and “need to make wise decisions about quarantining or isolating.” Clinton distributed test kits to people who indicated in online registration that they were experiencing symptoms. 

Norm Needleman, the first selectman of Essex, said the town distributed about 500 kits to residents and additional kits to schools, first responders, elderly housing and daycare centers. He said he would be keeping about 300 kits on hand to be used as needed. 

“Until I know we have more on hand, I don’t want to give them all out,” he said. 

Old Saybrook First Selectman Carl Fortuna said the town would reserve its 700 kits — half the number the town originally anticipated — for when the Saybrook Point testing site runs out of tests or if residents are left waiting in line for a test after the site closes. 

Other communities, like Middletown and New London, distributed the test kits directly to first responders, school staff and residents in congregate homes and senior care facilities. 

“It is simply neither efficient nor equitable to distribute 3,500 test kits to 48,000 residents at a mass distribution site on a first-come, first-served basis,” the Middletown Mayor’s Office wrote in a release on Monday afternoon. 

Mayor Michael Passero said that New London was also distributing test kits to homeless shelters, the local domestic violence shelter and city department heads, to be used when employees were exposed to COVID or having symptoms. 

“We’re trying to get them out into the community in places where they’ll have the most effect and get the people in most critical need of them,” Passero told CT Examiner.  

Passero said that rather than home testing kits, he was focused on getting the state to reopen the Community Health Center walk-in testing site, which shut down over the summer. 

In contrast, Darien made all of the approximately 3,600 tests it received available to its residents, including teachers, on Sunday. First selectman Monica McNally said the town had about 500 tests left over, which they plan to divide between first responders, seniors and school staff. 

McNally said that the town’s goal was to have the tests distributed as quickly as possible. She said that she had spoken with the town’s Emergency Management Services, which did not need the test kits. 

“We’re going to help as many people as we can,” she said, adding that she felt “confident” that more tests were on their way. 

Some communities are looking beyond the state as a source of COVID-19 testing kits. Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim told CT Examiner that the town was planning to join a group of municipalities, spearheaded by the City of Hartford, in a joint purchase of test kits. Florsheim said purchasing from the “trusted vendor” in bulk would lower the per-unit price for the towns.

“We hope this will allow us to have enough tests to do a larger-scale distribution as we’d planned to do next week,” said Florsheim in an email. 

Mayor Peter Nystrom of Norwich said that he would also consider looking beyond the state for supplies. He said that while the vaccination rate for elderly residents in Norwich was “extremely high,” the city’s vaccination rate as a whole was below 70 percent.  

“All those options are on the table to get more, absolutely,” he said.

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